Heal Me

 PART I

From the day he was born, illness seemed to be attracted to him. That is why he was named Yanisin, Utic for heal me. Yanisin never received the typical communal care or close, personal admiration from the people of his tribe; his mother always kept him near their hut at the edge of town. For it seemed every time someone from the clan came to visit, or Yanisin went to go see someone,  he came down with some other ailment

The Medicine Man of the Utic tribe had long exhausted his efforts and tried every kind of medicine and healing rite he thought might help. But Yanisin’s mother eventually kept even the Healer from visiting their hut because Yanisin was often left more ill at the end of a session than at he had been at the start.

Years passed and Yanisin grew older. He was forced to abstain from the custom of sweat lodge purification when he entered his tenth summer; the one time he had attempted to include himself in the rite his whole body was made to ache and he was left writhing for weeks. Drum lessons, too, were out of the question for in the middle of his first lesson he was reduced to coughing spasms that colored his hands with blood.

“ May the stars carry your sadness away. May the flowers fill your heart with beauty. May hope forever wipe away your tears. And, above all, may silence make you strong. ”
~Chief Dan George

Indeed even within his own hut Yanisin was not free from anguish. His abdomen would cramp and he would fever regularly. The Utic Chief, long unable to walk on his own because of an illness he contracted from White Man, had never cast an eye upon Yanisin, but over the years the story of his suffering reached his ear through the gossiping women of the tribe.

They said that Yanisin was possessed, that he had bad blood, that his pain was a punishment for his mother’s having conceived him through bestiality. As hositilities between the Utic and Topia tribe nearby began to mount, it seemed the old women became increasingly creative with their stories about Yanisin. Most likely to keep themselves from thinking of their sons and husbands and brothers going to war against the formidable Topia warriors.

 It wasn’t until Yanisin began showing signs of a “love disease” in his thirteenth summer that the Medicine Man came to the Chief in conference over the boy. The women of the tribe had of course been spreading the rumors of how he had contracted an affliction so inappropriate for his age, and one night the tribe’s Healer had been given a dream that answered for the years of Yanisin’s illnesses.

“ My Chief,” he had begun, “A dream came to me during my last sleep. In it was Yanisin and he was well. He was walking about our grounds and whenever he passed someone, his hands flashed like lightning and he moaned in pain. Thunder was heard, and his hurts would diminish, until he passed another tribesperson. He came lastly to see you, and immediately after giving you our greeting his hands exploded in light and he was stricken with lameness.”

Chief closed his eyes to take in the words his Shaman was telling him. “And what is it you take this to mean?”

“The spirits tell me that Yanisin draws pain from others the way we might draw blisters from the Poison Ivy plant.”

Nodding, Chief rocked slowly while he thought.

“And you have no medicine to treat Yanisin like we do our blisters?”

“None that is known either in our forest or Spirit World.”

As  the Healer discussed this revelation with the Chief, Shalani, the tribe’s newest warrior happened by the Chief’s hut and listened in to the last half of their conversation

“It seems to me that if he were able to control the Power, he would be a great Healer” the Chief had commented.

“Indeed, that was my first waking thought as well. But Yanisin seems completely unable to control what he draws from whom, and suffers far too much of the pain he takes into himself for us to be able to honorably use his Power.”

“This is not something you can instruct him in?” inquired the Chief of his Shaman.

“I do not know where I would begin. This is something which I have never seen nor heard of before.”

“Indeed I must declare the same. Pray to Great Spirit for direction, and come to me if a Dream should give you any further insight.”

With that, the Healer agreed and bid the Chief well before exiting the hut. Shalani scurried around the back and into the nearby tree line so that he would not be noticed.

Auto Fundamentals

Standing on my tip toes, I watch as papa and dad toil over a roughly idling engine. I see papa holding the handle of a screwdriver to his ear, the slotted blade pressed against a smooth part of the engine that looks like an upside down bread pan with chipping orange paint. He walks over to the other side of the engine and repeats the process.

“’Can ‘ear a loose lifter on this side” he says, setting the screwdriver down on his tool cart. 

“What size are the bolts on the valve covers? Half inch?” my dad asks, scanning papa’s tool cart for the right socket.

“Seven sixteenths. Get a deep well on a three-eighths drive with a two inch extension.”

Papa turns to me. “Go grab us a couple of rags on the back bench, Meat Head.” His term of endearment for me.

I scurry to the rear of my grandfather’s two-car garage, savoring the fresher, less polluted air that still lingers back there. Looking for a container of old towels and cut up t-shirts I know reside back here but not being able to locate them, my legs start to turn to noodles and my stomach turns over. I can’t find the box of rags and I know they’re waiting on me. I hear the rapid snapping and clicking of a ratchet being turned. Come on!

Finally I spot an oil-stained Pennzoil box shoved up against the far corner with a dingy terry cloth tail wagging out of it. I boost myself up, using the rusted bottom shelf as a step and I hook the oil-soaked cardboard container, bringing its contents within reach. I fish out three relatively clean rags and scamper back toward the engine bay. The bread pan cover has now been placed on Papa’s tool cart; I can see a pool of oil collecting at the bottom.

Laying the rags on top of the fender they are leaning over, my presence goes unnoticed. Their hands are moving quickly and skillfully, like ER surgeons racing to save a life slipping away. With one of the two orange upside-down pans removed, the engine is hemorrhaging oil with every pulse of the engine’s revolution, covering the hands and inner fender with viscous brown fluid. My dad grabs a rag with a hand that is momentarily free from other duties and he mops up the oil leaking onto the searing exhaust manifold and burning off like a refinery. They’re mumbling back and forth in the tongue of Mechanics, a foreign language to my 8 year old self.  The tips of their oil drenched fingers dance in between rapidly heaving rods and springs, giving turns of the wrench here and there. Then waiting, listening, before they repeat the cycle again.

Papa reaches his hand out and grabs the screwdriver stethoscope. He carefully positions it amidst the flurry of mechanical motion and again places his ear to the end of the handle.

“I ‘ink so,” he says, snapping up a rag and giving his dripping hands a cursory wipe.

My dad picks up the orange cover and replaces it on the engine, suturing up the motor’s opening with the tightening of a half-dozen bolts.  By now even with the cracking white fiberglass garage door open, the noxious combination of Marlboro and Camel Lights smoke mixed with uncatalysed exhaust makes my stomach queezy and my temples throb. But I’m a man-in-training, and if it doesn’t bother the two men working, I won’t let it bother me.

As they finish mopping up the oil slick around the engine I casually glance up at the poster hanging on the portion of dingy white wall above some scary looking piece of machinery with stone disks that belches sparks and growls when its fed metals. I felt funny as I gazed up at the warm, sensuous curves of Miss June, and it wasn’t the fumes. I didn’t know just what all I was looking at, but I knew that I liked it and shouldn’t get caught gawking.

“’Ey Meat Head!” Papa growls with his gravelly voice, “climb up ‘n th’ truck and rev it.”

My eyes grow big as saucers with a mix of exultation and fear. And although both lids snap closed in a vigorous blink to stop the fumes from stinging, as I walk to the open driver’s side door I am no less anxious. The step up into the late ‘70’s Chevy seems gargantuan. And while everything about the trucks exterior and interior seems rugged and intimidating, I am tentative and cautious as I climb onto the edge of the slippery vinyl seat.

“Just a little,” papa bellows over the loud engine. I see my dad glance at me from around the opened hood. His eyes are expectant and issuing both silent cautiousness and encouragement. Swallowing my nerves, I reach out my right foot and apply a little pressure to the long skinny pedal. Nothing happens. I push a little bit harder and the engine roars and the cab rocks as the accelerator rushes toward the firewall.  The small garage seemed to amplify the engine’s roar like a rocket motor in a tin can; I instinctively cupped my ears.  Like a reflex I yank my foot off, frightened at what I had just done. Oh no!

Rev it!”

I guess and hope that papa means he wants me to repeat my last act of chaos, and so I put my foot down again, mating my dinosaur-shaped sneaker soul to the ribbed hard rubber pedal. The cab shakes again. This is kinda neat. The exhaust roars and as I let off the gas pedal, everything settles back down. I like this!  I repeat the process one more time before papa says “Alright!”

But it was too late. I couldn’t smell the smoggy, carbon-monoxide rich air anymore. My ears were ringing, but I was smiling with delight. I had fallen in love with horsepower.  

* * *

“What size you need?”

“Should be a three-eighth head,” I say, reaching out a hand for the ratchet outfitted with the right sized socket.

I loosen and remove the bolts holding the intake manifold on and give the hunk of heavy cast iron a yank. A quick sigh at the weight escapes as I carry it over to my bench and set it down. The water pump, the timing cover, the radiator and the grill have all been removed already to give me enough working space to pull out the old camshaft and replace it with one that will give me upgraded performance. The first stroke is set to top dead center and so I set about loosening the rocker arms and pulling out the pushrods and lifters. Finally I pull the old timing chain and cam gear off from the front of the engine.

The lobed slug of steel slides out with a little wiggling and jiggling and a lot of steady pulling pressure. Freed, I set it on the edge of my work bench, the only part of my workspace not covered with dismantled Small Block Chevy parts.

“What’d you say you got for a replacement?”

“A Comp Thumper Hydraulic Roller. Putting on new Ultra-Pro lifters and Magnum ‘rods, too. I  also have a new Holley 300 Aluminum intake and Pete Jackson gear drive coming.”

“Papa always like to put the noisy gear drives in.”

“That’s what I ordered,” I say smiling as I coat the lobes and bearings of the new camshaft with lots of moly lube.

“He’d be proud.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

I don’t know exactly when I learned how to speak Mechanic, I just wish that my Grandfather had lived to see his tentative and gun-shy Meat Head learn to turn wrenches with the same sort of fledgling adeptness I used to admire in his grease-stained hands.

 

Sexually Transmitted Images

  I must sound like one of a gaggle of prudish old hens clucking amidst the clicking of their mahjong tiles, but what has gotten into young people today?  At the ripe old age of 22 I reflect back on my adolescence as a time when self confidence was taking continual nose dives with every fresh glance in the mirror at my awkward form. I remember the battle of wills trying to control a part of my anatomy that seemed to want to embarrass me by demanding attention at the most inopportune times. If modern trends are any indication, I should have let my mindless yet determined member say cheese.

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"In youth and beauty, wisodm is but rare." -Homer

A survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy revealed that 20% of teens have sent or posted sexually explicit pictures or videos of themselves, with a full 39% having sent or posted sexually evocative texts or emails. ABC news contributor Cole Kazdin remarks on the most startling incidents where “[c]hildren as young as 12, who aren’t sexually active, are sending explicit, provocative and even pornographic images to their peers” and “kids who are too young to wear bras…are posing in them, and then topless and then actually engaged in sex or even in masturbation” (Kazdin). Despite being a Generation Y cohort, my heart has long been enraptured by the 1950s, a simpler, less sexualized and un-digitized time.

And maybe that is why, for the majority of my own teen years I was either wrestling with the adolescent exhilaration of trying to sleep after receiving the rare flirtatious compliment or suffering palpitations while attempting to orchestrate an extra-curricular social gathering (it’s not a date, it’s a group thing!) that might get my fantasy girl to “like me like me.” At the start of such a foray existed the stubbornly persistent cycle whereby I  would unsteadily dial the number that would connect me to her only to, in a moment of cowardice—or sanity—abruptly hang up the phone off before she could answer. I can still recall the cold drops of sweat that would form in the intense silence after I pressed the last digit, and the first ring that set them rolling.

On the rare occasion I was brave—or delusional—enough to let the call  ring through, my crush’s smooth, casual manner of speaking made me consciously discomfited of the stammering and verbal stumbling she reduced me too. The eloquent scripts I wrote for myself before I endeavored to call always came out butchered once that last ring cut off and she answered. The neat conversational phrases I had penned turned into awkward mishmashes of questions without upward inflection or comments that stalled mid sentence.

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"If you reveal your secrets to the wind you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees." -Kahlil Gibran

Needless to say, I might have melted into my bedroom floor completely had I switched the phone into camera mode and sent a pixilated image of my privates to her. Of course, considering that 38% of teens believe that it’s common practice to share sexual images with people aside from whom the image was originally intended for and sent to, I could have let this statistic work in my favor and shared an explicit picture or two with the mutual friends my crush and I had in hopes that she would become enamored with my…candor

I remember the searing, unquenchable, inferno of jealously that consumed me when I would see or hear tale of my dream girl having talked to another guy. We weren’t anything, even by adolescent relationship standards, but that fact did nothing to assuage the pain my heart felt. As far as I was concerned, she was going to be my Snow White and I her Prince Charming. And I desired, like husbands do of their brides, that she keep herself only to me. With the fact that presently nearly half of high school boys have seen a nude image of at least one of their female classmates, I can only imagine the indignation my still maturing mind would have suffered had that girl—whose soft gently parted smile and lively blue eyes simultaneously intimidated and mesmerized me—appeared explicitly on the screens of my male compatriots. It would seem—given the current trend of sending and receiving “innocuous experimental message[s] sent to a cute boy or girl”–that my romantic morals have always been, like the fairy tale featuring the seven dwarves, old fashioned (Gil).

Hope

Hope

noun, verb, hoped, hop·ing.  the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best; to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence; to believe, desire, or trust; to feel that something desired may happen.

Hope  is telling your heart that you’ll see her again as you watch her familiar figure recede into the bustling milieu and blur from the tears forming behind your eyes; the calming breath that quells a racing, troubled heart; the fresh day that dawns on a fitful night and reminds you that light replaces dark given enough time.  It’s the melting of despair’s frosty layer on the spirit; the flapping of wings and not shivering of shoulders, the flutter felt in your stomach that says “maybe, just maybe” and the smile worn during a daydream.

Kathar

THE TOUR

After enough repetition of stepping off the expansive porches built outside each geodome and onto one of the connecting suspension sidewalks attached to them like mini intersections, I began to get my sea legs and soon figured out how to walk with the swaying of the bridges and not fight against it. Eventually my pulse settled down and I became able to hear Ande’s tour notes without being interrupted by my racing pulse.

 “Some people who visit think that us Katharians are de-evolving by living in the trees.  Those are the ones who think we live like the primates. We prefer to think, instead, that we have risen above the cultures who dwell the ground and are this much closer to the peace that lies out there” he said, while gesturing with open arms to the iridescent sky that could be seen through a break in the dense canopy.

“That’s very pleasing to hear,” I said, being on a respite from the “daily grind” of back home, “but I actually meant to ask what brought your people here, geographically?” It didn’t seem an out of place question to me, seeing as how the rain forest the Katharians dwelled in was in the heart of the Congo and yet Ande–and so far as I had observed through the clear plastic window panels in the geodesic homes we had passed by—the rest of the citizens living in the suspended community were more or less Aryan.

Ande nodded, and said understandingly, “Ah, you want to know our origins.” He leaned forward, pulling his resting body from the side of the rail and setting the bridge in a strange wobble that set me fumbling for something to steady myself on. “That, you see, is a question better answered by one of the members we will find in the Commons. My guide specialties revolve around the mechanical and architectural facets of Kathar, not the historical or sociological tenants of it. I do apologize for this knowledge gap; I’m afraid I’ve only given a few other tours, and to men much less open than yourself.”

I assured Ande that there was no need for apology, and told him that I looked forward to hearing the background of their organization whenever it would be convenient. We continued on and, as we stepped onto the 360 degree porch of a dome that seemed empty, I took the opportunity to wrap a knuckle against the building’s skin. It have a dull thud, almost like when one beats on the rim of a drum.

“What sort of synthetic material is the covering made out of” I asked, studying it closely.

“You must have been too ill at ease during the start of the tour to hear that, Mr. Kuhns, Ande answered with a kind smile. He flicked the beige film himself before answering that it was made of recycled plastic bottles. “And the metal skeleton,” he started, giving a tap on one of the numerous spars that made up a myriad of triangular panels, “is all reclaimed as well. Mostly aluminum from the aerospace and automotive industries, but with more than a few stray beer cans thrown in as well you can be sure.”

“And the windows?” I asked, running a hand across the clear plastic skin that made up the upper half or so of the geodome

“The same as the rest: plastic bottles that have been reheated and formed into large sheets. But where the privacy panels are hashed from colored bottles, obviously the light panels are formed from clear. Each equilateral panel is replaceable as well as reconfigurable, so light panels and privacy panels can be interchanged to suit the mood and desires of the dweller.”

Such simple concepts that were executed so brilliantly. I couldn’t help but think of the pedestrian ways my own society tried to use such trash; I remembered a television segment on a home built of old tires stacked and stuffed with aluminum cans. It seemed like cave man innovations compared to what I found here.

Enjoying the sure footing of the geodome that was suspended from a mighty and ancient tree whose leaf I could not identify, I stooped to study the bridges’ planks. I had at first thought them to be something like whitewashed lumber, but Ande quickly enlightened me to the contrary.

“Recycled e-waste plastic, remember, sir? Remolded into grooved boards that can be strung together like beads with our cable, made from re-smelted scrap steel. Also from e-waste.”  My flushing cheeks betrayed the fact that my terror had prevented me from remembering this aforementioned fact.

Standing back up, I took a quick survey around and realized that I was lost. Each geodesic building, nearly identical in construction though with some variances in size, was exceedingly disorienting. I had always felt I had a pretty good sense of direction, but as it appeared to me now I was a creature of visual reminders such as turn left at the big rock, if you see a yellow house with green shutters you’ve gone too far, and what have you. But as sure as I knew my way around the City by a sense of familiarity, so too did Ande continue our tour.

“If you’ve seen enough of the residences, Mr. Kuhns, I’d like to take you to our community center.” It was getting to be twilight.

“You may live in an imperfect world but the frontiers are not closed and the doors are not all shut.” -Maxwell Maltz

“Certainly,” I agreed, and, without much further difficulty, followed Ande over bridge and porch, bridge and porch, bridge and porch until we came to a massive form hanging from the biggest tree in the forest that I had seen so far. All of the panels were of the clear plastic variety, and light was emanating outwardly; all I could think of was the ball at Times Square on New Years.

“This is the Commons Hall,” Ande said. “Next door is the Central Hall, on the other side is the Citizens’ Center, and just beyond us is the Supply Bank.”

“So this is downtown Kathar,” I said, shaking my head in amusing disbelief.

TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER

Upon entering the Commons Hall I was reminded of a social reception the likes of which I was similar with from my own culture.  Rows of circular tables featuring dinning and socializing citizens looked inviting enough, their warm smiles and waves of welcome to me, a perfect stranger, made the atmosphere warm, yet mysteriously awkward at the same time. Walking through the center of the expansive room that, to my eye didn’t betray that it was a mere wedge of a largely circular structure, we made our way down a gently curving corridor until we found the office Ande intended to take me to.                 There were numerous glass doors with etchings that revealed their purpose. Game rooms, conference halls, and presumably some semblance of local officials’ offices as some names had but a single name upon it. As we continued to walk, with glass office doors to my left and light panels showing the encroaching night immediately to my left, I nearly bumped into Ande when he stopped suddenly in front of the only door whose glass was not clear. Instead, this door was frosted for privacy, and there was no name engraved upon it.

“This is Mr. Sanyu’s quarters. I’ll introduce you to him and let him answer the remainder of your questions.

I couldn’t help but harken back to my days of waiting outside the high school principal’s office as I approached an imposing looking man of about 60, seated behind a massive desk that must have been hewn out of a single massive slab of an ancient fallen tree. His smile was warm, but still I was uneasy. They all seem nice in the beginning I thought.

“Ande! Do introduce me to our new guest,” Stepping out from behind the desk I awaited to see what cultural greeting they embraced. To my surprise it was the hand-shake and one-handed hug we often give good friends back home. It was a ping of familiarity in a setting where it seemed out of place.

Ande scampered away hastily, I assumed him eager to join the masses in the dinning facility we first came across.

After being kindly offered a seat, Mr. Sanyu slowly lowered himself into  the intricately carved chair whose massive size could only be in proportion with the mammoth desk it was pulled up behind.